Guitarists talk a lot about recording killer distortion tones, butsometimes go kind of silent on thesubject of achieving great cleansounds. Is the quest for clean soobvious that tips and suggestions are as welcome as a field mouse swimming in your Captain Crunch? Idon’t think so. You see, crafting great clean tones can be just as difficult—and no less rewarding—thandialing in the holy grunge. Here areeight tips that point the way tocleaner, meaner, and more freshly scrubbed guitar sounds.
Clean sounds don’t start at the amp,they start at your instrument. So ifyou’re one of those players whonever clean their guitar or wipedown the neck, chances are there isenough mung and drool glued tothe bottom of your strings and fretboardto make the back pickup of aStrat sound like a Tal Farlow albumbeing played underwater. Cut thosegruesome wires off, and clean thefrets and fret board with the appropriate cleaning products. Then, puton a nice shiny set of your favoritestrings—my experience is that a .010set or larger produces the bestclean sound—at least two days priorto recording.
The path to a time-honored cleansound is to simply plug your guitarinto a direct box and into your audiointerface or mixer. Your soundshould be round and full and innocentof any overdrive. Some cageyengineers add a bit of twinkle andsnap to the direct sound bypositioning a mic near the fret board of the electric guitar to capturesome unamplified string attack.Recordists desiring a bit of goop intheir direct tones can switch out aconventional direct box for a tubedirect box that adds a touch of preamptube bluster.
If your amp has two inputs, the“low” input should operate at a alower gain compared to the “high”input. Conventional wisdom dictatesthat less gain equals more clean, solet’s not argue with conventionalwisdom. Plug into the lowest-gainchannel so that your amp isn’t predisposedto producing growl, grit,and overdrive.
Everyone should know that, whenusing amps (or amp emulations) with master volumes, cranking the preampgain and backing off the Master knobwill only get you dirty. But how manyplayers actually experiment with thelevels of the preamp and master levelsso that they work to bring out the hippest clean sound from your guitar?The lesson is simple: Spin thoseknobs until you’re bathed in thecleanest tone your amp and guitarcan muster. If you want a chime-ytone with just a hint of grizzled sizzle,turn up the master volume to thepoint where the sound starts to distort,and then back off the volumeuntil the tone is cooked to near-pristineperfection.
Depending on your amp or plug-in,boosting EQ can sometimes get youinto trouble when creating cleansounds, because the frequencyboosts may add just enough edginessto sully your shine. I like to cutmidrange frequencies with extremeprejudice, and then back off the bass,as well. If boosting treble adds someharmonic shimmer without introducingspittle,...